Category Archives: The Big Picture

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The Day I Met the Jewwwzz Man

The day I met the Jewwwzz Man was a day like any other day. Well, not exactly like any other day, because we (my lovely wife of 48 years and I) were not home in gray, dreary Ontario, but in sunny, warm Mexico. So, it was a day like any other day, while on vacation in Mexico avoiding the gray, dreary Ontario winter that I encountered him, but again, not exactly like any other day.

The day I met the Jewwwzz Man, was a day during our yearly sojourn in Mexico when two friends were visiting for the week. One of them has limited mobility and uses a walking stick, and the other has a chronic lower back problem and doesn’t move along so well either. That meant our daily routine now included taking electric transports from place to place within the resort.

Taking transport vehicles, means that one’s person might be exposed to others who are also escaping their own version of a cold, gray, dreary winter. That inevitability means certain beings can intrude inside my Dome of Heaven. Whenever such intrusions occur, they might be limited to an I-It category of relationship, or elevated to an I-Thou level. They might be permitted to remain under my Dome of Heaven, or be banished to the netherworld far from that idyllic place.

If you don’t know the difference between I-It and I-Thou relationships, you can read my book Through a Lens of Emptiness or you can read Martin Buber’s “I-It and I-Thou.” Suffice it to say, that I-It relationships are limited to factual knowledge about something or someone, and I-Thou relationships imply emotional interactions. When the Jewwwzz Man intruded into my Dome of Heaven, we were on such a transport vehicle. He didn’t even have a name at the time and there was no way of telling who he really was. He was just there, seated one seat behind me on the transport.

Leaning forward into my space, he asked where we were headed, and I politely responded with the name of the restaurant. As these sorts of informal inquisitions go, I responded in kind. We exchanged some impressions of the quality of food at each place. He asked “Did you have the Paella?” I responded as best I could, offering my opinion of the cuisine, and he in turn offered his. He increased the audacity of his intrusion by introducing himself. Thus marks the transition from just another human traveling on the same transport vehicle as me, to an I-It relationship called Mike from Illinois.

Sometimes one can choose his I-It interactions and sometimes they just happen. Mike from Illinois just happened because to ignore him would have been contrary to normal civil discourse, and certainly contrary to my Canadian manner. However, it was not until the next morning that I-It Mike transformed into I-Thou.

Mike and I crossed paths on our way to and from the exercise facility (El Gimnasio) at the resort, he on his way to, and me on my way from. Because of our newly formed I-It status we immediately recognized each other and stopped to exchange a socially appropriate “good morning.” Mike decided to elevate his end of the relationship by asking “Where are you from?” to which I responded, “Near Toronto in Canada.” That should have been the end of it, but Mike decided to push the limits of our relationship to the next level.

He prolonged the interaction by saying, “My son (or perhaps it was his brother, I can’t remember which because I didn’t really care) lived in Toronto for a year and told me there were all kinds of different people living in there.”

To which I countered, “There certainly are, Toronto is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America.” Mike’s rejoinder tipped his hand, for with his next words I discovered his true identity.

Mike then remarked, “I understand there are a lot of Jewwwzz in Toronto ―a lot of Jewwwzz,” I knew who I was dealing with. It was the Jewwwzz Man in the flesh.

imagesT00DR7FU I responded, “That’s true,” all the while controlling an enormous urge to laugh a great big, loud, roaring laugh. You see, at that very moment, as the word Jewwwzz left his lips, Mike from Illinois transformed into a human-like Dr. Seussian character. There was just something about his face, the way his mouth formed the word Jewwwzz, and the way those sounds oozed and slithered out of his mouth, prolonging the “…wwwzz” sound that strongly resembled the Grinch, or a Whovien creature from some oversized Whoville. It was at this point in our relationship that I-It became I-Thou, at least for the moment. e999841f42e76f81e3b05891fdfb8974[1]

What the Jewwwzz Man didn’t know, couldn’t know, is that I happen to be Jewish. I took his comment to be a reflection of an intrinsic level of anti-Semitism, a form of the resident evil present in xenophobes. There was just something about his emphasis on “many different kinds of people” and “lots of Jewwwzz,” that screamed XENOPHOBIA. I-It Mike from Illinois, became, I-Thou Mike the Jewwwzz Man.

I went from just identifying Mike as a human being with a certain physical form from a certain place (just knowledge), to what Mike was like on the inside — a xenophobic, Mid-Western Caucasian, American, who had the temerity to evoke an emotional response in me. I am not angry with Mike. I do not hate him or care to get to know him better, fear his presence on the face of the earth, or revile him. Indeed, there is a smidgeon of sympathy for this narrow-minded and prejudiced individual.

There is something pitiable about a person who cannot see past the image of “all kinds of people living in Toronto” to describe a multicultural, cosmopolitan city. Mike’s true, negative feelings about people who are not like him, Caucasian, American, and Christian, came across when he said “lots of Jewwwzz” in conversation. After mulling this thought over in his head for a few seconds during a thoughtful pause, and then saying “lots of Jewwwzz” a second time without taking a second breath, confirmed it.

The essence of any I-Thou relationship is that it persists as long as the emotions related to it exist. I usually cherish I-Thou relationships because they fulfill me, but not this one. The Jewwwzz Man is more like the Grinch than he knows. I may never be able to relegate Mike from Illinois to an I-It status again, but I certainly can exclude him from my Dome of Heaven, relegating him to the nether provinces of my life experience. My Dome of Heaven definitely does not, and never will, include xenophobes.

As always, your faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author

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The Kicking Horse River and the Way of Water

The Kicking Horse River and the Way of Water

Last evening (May 27), I attended another performance of the Kitchener Waterloo Teachers Choir. My son and daughter-in-law are members of this amateur choir. Each Christmas and Spring they give a concert. This year’s Spring Concert included the song, “Kicking Horse River”. The lyric of this song is based on a poem of the same name by the Canadian poet Pauline Johnson. The music is composed by Jeff Smallman. This song is strongly evocative of the power and personality of the Kicking Horse River as it cuts its way through the Canadian Rockies.kickinghorsemapKickinghorseRiver

The music and words “grabbed me” and tugged at the heart of a man who loves the mountains of British Columbia and the wild rivers that emanate from their glaciers and a myriad of springs on high. The words of the immortal Pauline Johnson, mated with Smallman’s composition, and the sounds of the human voice, conjured up the Taoist ideas related to the power and qualities of water, sometimes known as the Water Way.

If you go into the natural world and observe water or you experiment with it, water reveals its qualities: [Quoted from Tao and Water – The Real Spiritual Lesson]

– Water is relentless.  It never stops exerting its force.

– Its force is a manifestation of its nature.  It does not try to be something it is not, applying neither morality nor immorality.

– When it is restricted, Water seeks the weakest spot of any obstruction and applies constant force until it is free.

– When it is pressed or attacked, it changes form and repositions itself.  It exerts constant counter force to search for weakness.

– Water is opportunistic.  Given the slightest opening it will pass through.  It will do so while the opening is present.  It will widen the opening if possible.

– Water always seeks to do the easiest thing as long as it can.

-Water does not complain about the path it follows.  It simply follows the path.

– Water has a wide range of energetic expressions but continues to be Water.  It can be still.  It can be sluggish.  It can be swift.  It can be pounding.  It can be vapor.

When you compare the words and feelings expressed in Johnson’s poem to the qualities of water, the similarities are striking. Pauline Johnson was no Taoist, but she was a First Nation’s person who lived in the late 19th Century and on into the beginning of the 20th..PaulineJohnsonThe First Nation traditional view of the natural world is very close to the Taoist concept of the unity of man and nature. The Way of Water and the Unity of Man and Nature, are two significant themes found in Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment.

Water plays an important role in all lives as an essential basic need. Beyond that, when the Way of Water in all its manifestations and qualities, becomes part of one’s way of living, he cannot help but seek the Tao. I look for evidence of the Tao in all peoples, in all cultures, and in all things. Of course, I do not always find it, but that’s not surprising. Sometimes you just cannot see the Tao (which cannot be seen), but one can always feel the Tao when he is on the right path.

There are times when one is so moved by an experience, sharing it with others is the only thing he can do. The rendition of “Kicking Horse River”, and the words of Pauline Johnson created just such an experience for me. Have you had a similar experience. Please share it through the comment section.

As always, your faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss – Author – “Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment.”


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Logic takes you from A to B, or from here to there, but not everywhere.

In print, Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson” . This famous catch phrase is a product of  liberties taken by Hollywood screen writers. In Sherlock Holmes films and later television versions, Holmes would utter this phrase to Dr. Watson before explaining  how his astute inductive processes (gathering clues and making observations)  resulted in one of his brilliant deductions. Inductive and deductive capabilities are not the exclusive domain of the sleuth or the scientist, but are inherent human traits evolved to ensure our survival as a species. Neanderthal hunters looked for clues as they tracked an animal, leading to deductions about the type, size, condition, path and possible location of the prey. Inductive and deductive reasoning is as essential for the survival of modern Homo Sapiens  as it was for the Neanderthal. Enabling the inductive and deductive processes of a reader through carefully constructed inductive hooks leading to deductive satisfaction is essential for the survival of the writers product, be it a work of fiction or non-fiction.

Information about types of reasoning, logical argument and the pitfalls of faulty logic is readily accessible from print sources or the internet. The following is a list of the main logical flaws that may confound a reader.

* Composition and division: Assuming what is true of the parts is true of the whole, and visa versa.

* Begging the question: Setting up an argument to match the desired conclusion.

* Non sequitur: A written line or idea that does not follow from the line or idea that precedes it.

* Ignoring the issue: This logical fallacy speaks for itself.

* False dilemma: Forcing an either/or choice when there are more than two things to choose from.

* Equivocation: Using a word with different meanings for the same term in the same logical argument.

This post is not about logic in writing, but rather about the importance of logical writing. Writing logically is critical on two fronts: first, logical writing keeps the reader on track with the content paragraph after paragraph; second, logical writing leads the reader to see (deduce) a writers intended outcome. Fiction and non-fiction writers have the same goal, but get there from different directions for different reasons.

In a work of fiction, the logical development of character and plot are essential. Although fiction writers may chose to lead the reader on a “goose chase” from time to time to enhance the suspenseful elements of his or her story, logic must prevail or a “goose chase” is likely to become a loose chase. Good narrative writing demands a writer have a logical plan for developing a story firmly in mind as they write.  The demand for a clear logical plan of story development is particularly important for writers who wish to produce stories with multiple simultaneous plot lines that eventually coalesce into one exciting or emotional conclusion.  I know someone who is struggling with the writing process, as he attempts to write a fiction as it pops into his head, without a logical plan in mind. Writing time is precious. A logical plan for a fiction is essential even though a fiction allows for a certain degree of freedom within the logical structure.

Logical planning of a non-fiction work is equally important and more straight forward than in a work of fiction. The overall plan for a work of non-fiction includes a logical sequence for each paragraph, for the paragraphs in a each section, for the sequence of sections and the relationships between sections in the completed project. Autobiographies and biographies may make use of purposefully constructed flashback elements, but in general, the logical flow in works of non-fiction should not jump around. Ideas presented need to be adequately supported by the fullness of the prose and correct diction. The level and formality of diction (the words selected) should be consistent with the target audience and the content type. The level of diction can range from moderate to complex and the level of formality ranges from informal to very formal. The axiom of moderation in all things is most appropriate in relation to the level and formality of diction in a written work, but a writer of non-fiction can never be moderate when it comes to the logical plan for his or her writing. Rigor in logical planning is the “watch word” for the writer of non-fiction, but care needs to be taken to ensure that rigour does not progress to rigor mortis.

The next planned post reflects on the significance of proper diction. Until then . . .

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What is Black and White and Stands Firmly on Three Legs?

Two important tomes have dominated the past few days and are likely to do so for many more to come. The first is my recently purchased  Sixteenth Edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. The second is my, now cherished, Guide and Handbook for Writing by Erwin Griggs and David Webster (Temple University), copyrighted in 1963 by the American Book Company of New York. These two books are among the principle supports to be used to address the comments of the development editor, content editor and quality editor.

The form of grammar and style of one’s writing is expected to comply with The Chicago Manual of Style. While it is one of several authoritative style manuals in print, it is an industry standard and was cited in materials provided to me by the publishing house I contracted. The Guide and Handbook for Writing (Griggs and Webster),  found its way into my life as an essential text in an Introductory English class at Temple University. Sadly, speaking for myself, the Griggs and Webster text was never appreciated nor exploited as it should have been, that is until now. This is a doubly tragic example of poor scholarship, since David H. Webster who is one of the authors was the professor for that class. Fortunately, as a hoarder of books that might prove useful later in life, the Griggs and Webster volume was still in my personal library.

The answer to the riddle at the head of this post is a book; which is essentially black and white and stands on three legs called clarity, fullness and sincerity. Griggs and Webster list these as the three virtues of writing. Even though a written work is structurally and grammatically sound according to a style manual, it is likely to lack appeal without these three elements. Fullness and sincerity flow entirely from the writer. Most writer’s handbooks address these two elements through examples and practice through exercises. When one works on these skills without the benefit of an instructor, the examples are useful but the exercises are not very helpful without correction and discussion.

Achieving fullness in any written work is a matter of balance between the number of words used to express an idea (usually within a paragraph) and the complexity of the language used. The writer has padded their work when too many words are used, and ideas presented may be obscured . The writing is thin and ideas incompletely expressed when too few words are used. The writer needs to take the average reading level of his or her audience into account as well. The average reading level of a literate adult in the United States is somewhere in a range between the seventh and ninth grade. When one writes textbook material, the best advice is to write for a reader who is a grade below the grade in which the text is to be used. Applying that same maxim to a non-fiction work written for the general public, suggests that the complexity of language target a level less than the maximum reported. Although the interest factor holds a reader’s attention even if the language is challenging, when language is too complex a reader may shy away from the writing. Achieving sincerity is another matter, since a writer either is either sincere in their writing or not. Sincerity cannot be taught, it must just be present in the writing and come from the heart of the writer.

Of the three pillars of good writing, clarity remains dependent on grammar and structure but also depends on word choice. Rigorous application of the rules of style and form as specified in a good style manual should take care of structural clarity. Clarity related to word choice is achieved though using words that express the intended meaning. In an ideal world, every word a writer includes in his or her text supports the meaning of what is written, but that is easier said than done. Most individuals use words in everyday conversation based familiarity and common usage. However, looking a word up in the dictionary is very enlightening. One often finds that the actual definition of a word they use frequently has shades of meaning that are surprising. In written work, unless writing a dialogue or writing in dialect, the accuracy of using words based on their correct meaning is essential for clarity. A web-based support that is very useful in selecting the correct word for its intended meaning is the Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus at

Good writing is structurally sound and grammatically correct. Great writing has both those characteristics and stands on the pillars of Fullness, Clarity, and Sincerity. Logical writing is another component of excellent writing. Reflections on logic in writing is my agenda for the next post. Until then . . .

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Some Simple Truths – Caught Between a $ and a Hard Choice

The only certain way to self-publish with a minimum of expense is to be an expert in all areas of editing and marketing. The novice writer, who is also a newbie to the world of self-publishing, most likely thinks of copy editing as the only editing required to achieve a publishable work. The budding author who has an excellent grasp of English grammar believes he or she has the editing tiger by the tail and is sure to produce the perfect manuscript. To be sure, a copy-edit (line by line edit) is essential, but as an individuals experience of working with a self-publishing house grows, editing requirements take on new dimensions of complexity. Consider the following sequence . . .

* A writer drafts a manuscript and submits it to the publisher. (N.B. the writer has purchased some level of publishing package from the self-publishing house prior to submitting a manuscript)

* The manuscript is reviewed and  feedback provided – at this point the publisher may say the work is not acceptable for publishing, but will most likely refer your project to a development consultant.

* After a conversation (or conversations) with the consultant, various services are offered at a per/word cost, which one is free to decline – at this point the writer can either work up the manuscript based on the commentary of the preliminary review and submit the revised manuscript for review at a cost – or – elect to go with one of the many editing/author support services offered.

* The hopeful author needs to be prepared for other consultants, offering support and services, to call. A call from a marketing consultant is a certainty.

There are two simple truths for those who become engaged with a self publisher: first, the more types of editing and the more self-promotion a writer can do, the less it will cost to publish a book – second, some of the services offered have value and merit, so the writer might pick and chose which are worth the investment in $$$ required to take advantage the service/s offered.

Think about the section found at the beginning of most books (or sometimes at the end), the acknowledgements. When the author thanks the editors provided by the publisher and all the individuals who provided other supports for the creative process that resulted in a book, they are thanking a host of formal and informal editors and reviewers. Those individuals, who may be few or many, provided development edits, substantive edits, content edits, quality edits, copy edits and feedback on the writing itself. The difference between the established author and the self-published author is who pays for all that support. Money and financial backing flows to the established author before, during, and after his or her book is published. Some money (dreamed of royalties) may flow to the self-published author after a book hits the market, but the financial backing of that book is the responsibility of the writer.

The jury is out on the self-publishing process. More evidence is required to make a judgement about this process. Reading the comments and critiques of others as related to the quality or lack of quality in the self-publishing world can shake one’s confidence a bit. While there are certainly some valid complaints and criticisms published, it is possible they may originate with the individual making negative assertions in part or in whole, and not the publisher at all. With all the books that are self-published these days, one would expect more complaints and criticisms than there are. Work honestly through the process, have realistic expectations of how much support you will actually receive, put in the effort required to edit your work and one should achieve a reasonably good published end product.

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Writing From My Comfort Zone

Non-fiction, that’s my ticket to writing a first work. My initial reasoning was that a long, academically oriented career should be an asset in a non-fiction project. All writing requires research skills to a greater or lesser degree. A fiction writer uses research to give the story an authentic ring. The non-fiction writer uses research to support ideas and arguments with corroborating evidence whenever possible. I was quite used to using information gathered from my research and observations to do just that.

I also chose to attempt a non-fiction project for another practical reason. When trying something new, it is important to keep the number of new things to think about to an absolute minimum. The greatest challenge I faced was writing grammatically correct non-fiction prose that is interesting and accessible to my future readers. Everything I had written to date was relatively short and consisted of report type documents and records of research written for a very specific audience, with a specific knowledge base. Now I wanted my writing to reach out to a broad range of individuals with varied backgrounds,  a challenge indeed.

All writers need to establish an idea of the general audience for whom to write, be they engaged in the creation of works of fiction or non-fiction. Since I am on the cusp of the baby boom wave, my fellow boomers would be a likely audience, and so I decided to focus on them. To some, this may appear opportunistic, but remember, my goal is to minimize the unfamiliar so I can concentrate on writing clear prose. By writing for my peer group, I eliminate some of additional variables facing the newby writer (me).

Now I needed a subject for my project that had a sense of immediacy for my target audience. Topics that came to mind most readily related to health, sex life, memory, and relationships. I was drawn to topics related to memory and aging since memory loss is a concern to adults as they age. Indeed, there is a certain element of fear associated with the idea of memory loss, since it portends the loss of independence; a scary thought for anyone, the aging population in particular. I also had some background in memory and cognition gained in the course of my career as a special education specialist. Once again, I am sticking with the theme of familiarity so I can concentrate on the skill of writing clearly for a general audience. You might have noticed that I tend to write longish sentences, and that might be a tendency I need to address. I am concerned that my readers might forget the ideas at the beginning of a sentence, by the time they get to the end.

Memory is not exactly a unique subject for a book. Just do a simple search on the online book stores of Amazon or Indigo/Chapters, and you will see what I mean. My next task was to think of memory in a less common way. More on that to come…..

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To Fiction or To Non-fiction, That is the question

Two days have passed since my manuscript was sent on its merry electronic way to the editorial office of my publisher. I can only imagine what is going on in the mind of my nameless, faceless, you shall have no contact with development editor. I am allowing myself to count the days spent waiting as they elapse, like a countdown to the momentous event of receiving the editors comments and rework directions. Until then, I am free to let my mind wander a bit.

I have chosen to wander back through time to the point of deciding whether to try my hand at non-fiction or fiction. As I stated earlier, writing and becoming published are two big ideas beneath my dome of heaven, but what to spend my energy and time writing. My first approximation of direction led me to the idea of writing a fiction. I was to find out that was easier thought than done. Once, in my early teaching career, I worked up a unit of instruction for grade six students that resulted in an extended short story. The unit was based on cognitive skills related to classification and description. It was a very successful unit of instruction which allowed my students to generate pages and pages of narrative writing. The “Ah Ha” moment came when I thought of resurrecting the bones of that teaching unit and using them as the framework for constructing a work of fiction. I soon discovered that my grade six students had one thing going for them that I lacked, IMAGINATION. Rather than becoming discouraged, I looked for support, where as an academic, I knew some was sure to be found – the public library and the book store. Sure enough, I located the needed resources and I was off to the races.

Over the next few months (from the Autumn of 2011 to the chill of February 2012) I acquired a small but useful library of resource books. I list them here, for your information.

* The Canadian Writer’s Handbook by Messenger and de Bruyn, 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall Canada Inc, Scarborough Ontario

* Crafting Novels and Short Stories: The Complete Guide to Writing Great Fiction (from the editors of Writer’s Digest), Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati Ohio

* The Master Book of All Plots – PLOTTO, by William Wallace Cook, Tin House Books, Portland, Oragon and New York, New York

*  Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, 2nd Edition, Lydia N, Edelstein, PhD

* Revised and Expanded – The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing, by Dundurn Press Limited in co-operation with Public Works and Government Services Canada Translation Bureau

** Guide and Handbook for Writing, Griggs and Webster (Temple University), American Book Company, New York

** The Little Brown Handbook, 2nd Edition, H. Ramsey Fowler, Little Brown and Company, Toronto and Boston

* Newly acquired  ** Books already in my library which are likely out of print now

Now, I was one happy academic. I had books to use as guides and references. Armed with these useful tomes I started writing. I was now faced with two problems rather than just one. Not only was I struggling with the writing, I was struggling to get my head around all the information at my fingertips. It was difficult to make progress and rapidly decided that another approach to my goal of becoming a writer was in order. Instead of wrestling with trying to write a fiction at the same time I was trying to get a feel for writing a large work, I chose to fall back on the familiar domain of non-fiction.

As an academic, my life was all about non-fiction reading and writing. Although, some of the report card comments I wrote over the years, had to be so carefully crafted to protect the sensibilities and feelings of both students and parents, one might have called them my earliest works of fiction.

I need to reflect a bit before continuing on, so until then……..


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An Argument for Emphasizing the Positive

In the last post I touched on the idea that one should include only positive elements under their DOH (Dome of Heaven). On reflection, that idea deserves further illumination. Our personal DOH is intended to be a stress free zone, thus there is no room for stress inducing recollections. Life experience always has its negatives; some are of our own doing and some just happen and are beyond our control. If allowed, negatives can dominate our lives and impair our sense of well-being.

When negative experiences are consequent to our own actions, the superego never lets it us forget them. Sure, we can push those experiences to the back of our mental shelves, but they are always going to be there if we choose to look. Hopefully, we listen to our superego and avoid repeating the same mistakes.  Others may choose to remind of us of our transgressions from time to time as well, so there is no reason to purposefully include them beneath our DOH. Our super ego and other individuals will surely remind of those events. Some negative experiences in life are beyond our control, and may be very painful. These too will be difficult to put aside, but a positive DOH can help us in those circumstances. Correctly developed, a DOH acts as a shield from the negative and a refuge in times of stress. When required, it acts as a personal sacred spot that lowers blood pressure and provides a setting for contemplation and reflection. Such are the strengths of a DOH.

We all stand under our own dome of heaven whether we generate it with intention, or we just end up with whatever develops over our lifetime. Try this exercise. Think about your life experiences without much in the way of deliberate focus. What stands out in your thoughts, positive elements or negative elements? Chances are, you need to think a bit more to generate positive recollections as opposed to negative ones. Which of those types of recollections do you recall in greater detail, positive or negative? The trauma and detail of negative events are closer to the surface of memory than the pleasure of positive events. Read the brief article that appeared in the New York Times on March 23, 2012 by Alina Tugend titled, Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall, for some insight. This is one of many references that address this topic. Simply put, we need to work at resurrecting positive memories if we want to hold on to them, and include them under our Dome of Heaven. More on this idea to follow in my next post.

The Dalai Lama might want to add to this post. What do you think he might say? Please comment…

As always, your faithful blogger,

L. Alan Weiss – Author – Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment

Please visit my website at

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The straight stuff on the Dome of Heaven

My last post focused on the idea of building autobiographical memory by rehearsing your story, and exercising declarative memory. Your personal dome of heaven, is a structure built to house the ‘you’ in you’.  Your DOH (the acronym I like to use for sake of simplicity) is  a structure built to house all that you wish it to contain. The only limitations on what can be under your DOH are the limitations imposed by reality. There is no room for the imaginary or the illusory within a Dome of Heaven.

Kiefer’s painting entitled “Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven”, depicts a miniscule figure standing in the middle of a barren field. The figure is cloaked in a military style coat and displays a “Hail Hitler” like salute. Some may take acceptation to Kiefer’s depiction, but if you think about it, that is the Dome of Heaven followers of Hitler created for themselves; a DOH that is barren, supporting no growth, dully coloured, with the minuscule figure at its centre cut off from the world around him. Your DOH will be very different.

All DOH’s are bounded spaces but not limited in area. The are expandable according to the wishes of its builder. As you reconstruct your autobiographical memory, you can begin to construct your DOH by deciding what elements to include within its bounds. As you make your decisions on inclusions, you exercise your judgement and decision-making functions (executive functions)  of the brain at the same time you exercise your declarative memory functions.  What you include under your dome is up to you entirely, but my recommendation is to include everything that made you feel good in even the smallest way. Include experiences, decisions, people, places, and things that increased your sense of well-being and gave you a sense of satisfaction and joy when you think about them. Your DOH needs to be a feel good place, for when times get tough, it may be all you have that gives you any joy and any stability.

The skeptic may well ask the following questions.  “What about the negative stuff? What gives us permission to exclude the negative? What should I exclude? The answer is simple; your memories are your memories, good and bad alike. Negative memories never go away, and just hang out in our mind whether we like it or not. You can, and will, carry negative experiences and negative feelings around in your mind, but you need not include them within the bounds of your DOH. Your Dome of Heaven is a personal place, and a sacred place. It is a place into which you can retreat from the world when you need respite from its stressors and complexities. If you build it carefully, and look around inside frequently, you should see every thing, every person, and every experience that enhanced your sense of self. If you learned something through a negative life experience, don’t include the negative experience, but do include the positive consequences that resulted from whatever you learned through that experience.

As you imagine yourself within your DOH, your avatar standing under the apex of the dome you construct, will still be just a minuscule figure for on a universal scale, that is all we really are.  Your DOH is important to you, but it is a very insignificant place within the greater universe. Since, as Kiefer depicts, everyone has their own dome of heaven, your DOH is just one among the multitudes. That reality takes nothing away from the fantastic place your DOH is for you.

What might the Dalai Lama add to this discussion? Please comment…..

As always, your faithful blogger,

L. Alan Weiss – Author – Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment

Please visit my author website at

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Why Anselm Kiefer?

Prior to a visit to the SFMOMA, I knew nothing about Kiefer and his work. The museum showcased his work in a special exhibit on display at a time I happened to be in San Francisco. Of all his work on display, a painting titled “Every man stands under his own dome of heaven” captured my attention and my thoughts.

Kiefer is a bit more than a year older than I, so he is one of my contemporaries. He was born in post war Germany (vanquished and diminished in so many ways), and I was born in the USA (one of the victors, and among that group of nations, the least devastated by war). As I learned more about the man, I tried to put myself in his place, growing up in a country so marked by the vestiges of war, that unexploded bombs still turn up as construction crews excavate for new projects or unearthed in a farmer’s field while cultivating. I thought about what it would it be like to grow up hearing of the shame associated with your country, and seeing the results of the physical and economic scares of defeat while you were in your formative years. In the USA, it was not shame, but the glory of helping to rid the world of evil that was the theme. I clearly remember my mother taking me to see Eisenhower’s motorcade down Broad Street in Philadelphia shortly after his election. I was taken to see the great man, the architect of conquest, who on at the end of his eight years in office, warned of the dangers of the mitlitary/industrial complex. I began to think about the impact of early memories and how they shape our future.

As I learned more about Kiefer and his art, it became clear that his creative expression was in part a reflection of his reactions to the influences of his youth. His history shaped his art and his philosophy as expressed in his works. It became apparent that the memories of his youth were integral to his autobiography, and hence his autobiographical memory was integral to his identity.

The concept of each one of us creating our own dome of heaven captured my imagination, and forced me to examine what my dome of heaven looked like, and how it came to be. In the process, the idea that preserving autobiographical memory was critical to preserving a sense of self became a dominating thought. How do you go about preserving memories that have already begun to fade? How does one go about resurrecting their autobiographical memory? How important is the preservation of self to our sense of well-being?

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